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The 15 biggest data breaches of the 21st century

Taylor Armerding | July 13, 2017
Security practitioners weigh in on the 15 worst data breaches in recent memory.

AFF Vice President Diana Ballou issued a statement saying, “We did identify and fix a vulnerability that was related to the ability to access source code through an injection vulnerability.”


3. eBay

Date: May 2014
Impact: 145 million users compromised
Details: The online auction giant reported a cyberattack in May 2014 that it said exposed names, addresses, dates of birth and encrypted passwords of all of its 145 million users. The company said hackers got into the company network using the credentials of three corporate employees, and had complete inside access for 229 days, during which time they were able to make their way to the user database.

It asked its customers to change their passwords, but said financial information, such as credit card numbers, was stored separately and was not compromised. The company was criticized at the time for a lack of communication informing its users and poor implementation of the password-renewal process.

CEO John Donahue said the breach resulted in a decline in user activity, but had little impact on the bottom line – its Q2 revenue was up 13 percent and earnings up 6 percent, in line with analyst expectations.


4. Heartland Payment Systems 

Date: March 2008
Impact: 134 million credit cards exposed through SQL injection to install spyware on Heartland's data systems.
Details: At the time of the breach, Heartland was processing 100 million payment card transactions per month for 175,000 merchants – most small- to mid-sized retailers. It wasn’t discovered until January 2009, when Visa and MasterCard notified Heartland of suspicious transactions from accounts it had processed.

Among the consequences were that Heartland was deemed out of compliance with the Payment Card Industry Data Security Standard (PCI DSS) and was not allowed to process the payments of major credit card providers until May 2009. The company also paid out an estimated $145 million in compensation for fraudulent payments.

A federal grand jury indicted Albert Gonzalez and two unnamed Russian accomplices in 2009. Gonzalez, a Cuban-American, was alleged to have masterminded the international operation that stole the credit and debit cards. In March 2010 he was sentenced to 20 years in federal prison. The vulnerability to SQL injection was well understood and security analysts had warned retailers about it for several years. Yet, the continuing vulnerability of many Web-facing applications made SQL injection the most common form of attack against Web sites at the time.


5. Target Stores

Date: December 2013
Impact: Credit/debit card information and/or contact information of up to 110 million people compromised.
Details: The breach actually began before Thanksgiving, but was not discovered until several weeks later. The retail giant initially announced that hackers had gained access through a third-party HVAC vender to its point-of-sale (POS) payment card readers, and had collected about 40 million credit and debit card numbers.


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